Cogges Link Road inquiry: day 1

October 4th, 2011 by Kate Griffin Leave a reply »

The inquiry into the compulsory purchase of land needed to build the Cogges Link Road is ongoing. The outcome of the inquiry will affect all Witney residents, so we’re trying to report as much of it as possible. Here’s our account of the first day proper at the Methodist Church in Witney on Thursday 22nd September.

Key points made in the opening statement from David Holgate QC, lawyer for the county council:

  • The county has already approved the compulsory purchase of the land, including part of the Witney Lake and Meadows Country Park area.
  • The land subject to the compulsory purchase order is divided into plots, owned by various people. Most landowners, including Witney Town Council, have not objected to the order. The only landowner objecting is the Mawle Trust.
  • He can give an “undertaking” that certain promised “complementary measures” will be provided.
  • The county believes that building this new road is the only way to reduce congestion in Witney.
  • The county believes that the Cogges Link Road will protect listed buildings on the High Street, Bridge Street and Oxford Hill by keeping traffic away from them.
  • The Environment Agency approved the plan in terms of flood risk provided there was no alternative. The county believes there is no alternative.
  • If the link road doesn’t go ahead, the Section 106 money has to be returned.

He also read from two seemingly contradictory pieces of central government guidance, one saying that local authorities should plan as if the car will always be the main form of transport in rural areas and one saying that local authorities should be trying to move people away from cars towards cycling, walking and public transport. Holgate also admitted in his statement that residents opposing the road outnumber those in favour.

Mr Holgate then called Nigel Day to give evidence about the design and engineering aspect of the case for the road. Key points from Mr Day’s initial statement:

  • He believes the link road would be “the best thing for Witney”.
  • No additional traffic calming needed on Cogges Hill Road.
  • No additional street lighting needed.
  • The Cogges Link Road will cross the Windrush and the west branch of the Windrush will have to be diverted. Two culverts to be provided.
  • There will be other diversions, e.g. overhead electrical cables will have to be moved at the county park. Day described this as an “enhancement”.

Mr Day was then cross-examined by Mark Lowe QC, lawyer for the anti-road side. Key points to emerge from cross-examination:

  • When Mr Day said “best thing for Witney”, he was talking about traffic and nothing else. He didn’t mean that Witney would be financially better off or a nicer place to spend time in; he just meant that traffic will flow more quickly through the town.
  • One of the main complementary measures for the road is a 5-phase traffic system at the Staple Hall junction (the double roundabout at the end of Bridge Street). Draft plans for this new junction weren’t drawn up by the county until the afternoon of Monday 19th September – the day before the inquiry opened!
  • Another important complementary measure is a roundabout on the Station Lane/Ducklington Lane junction (or, failing that, a Mova light system). However, before the council can build a roundabout there, they need to relocate a power substation. But before they can move the substation, they need to buy the land for its new location, requiring a compulsory purchase order separate from the one which is the subject of the inquiry. The upshot is that the council intends to install the Mova system temporarily and replace it with a roundabout later if and when they get the land. We did not hear what the additional cost of this will be.
  • The plans include a new footway/cycleway running alongside the  Cogges Link Road for about half its length. In practice, this means that it will be about 5 metres off the ground, on what Mr Day describes as a “gently rolling” incline.
  • There will not be a controlled crossing point for people using the proposed pedestrian/cycle path because the council does not deem it necessary for people’s safety. Walkers and cyclists will simply have to wait for a gap in the traffic. Mr Day said that “there is scope” for a controlled crossing if the council changes its mind in the future.
  • The county acknowledges a segregated left turn at the Witan Way roundabout would be safer and better for traffic flow, but there’s “no scope” for this so they’re going for a separate left lane instead. Mr Day agreed that the lack of a segregated turn will make the junction less efficient by creating more traffic conflicts.
  • The county’s capacity analysis shows that the plans for the Witan Way roundabout are adequate.
  • There’s “scope” for a mini-roundabout on Cogges Hill Road, but they’re not planning one.

Mr Lowe also raised the issue of managing traffic demand by discouraging car use, pointing out that very little is being done in Witney on this score: free car parking, no bus lanes, little provision for cyclists. Mr Day blamed the people involved in Witney’s early development for not including scope for these measures 20 years ago.

Nick Wilcock, Witney resident, asked Mr Day three questions:

  • Does your report contain any reference to cyclists?
  • Does your report contain any reference to residents’ safety?
  • Does your report take into account the Downs Road junction?

The answer to all three questions was “No”, though his answers to later, more sympathetic questioning from Mr Holgate suggested that the truth was slightly more complicated than that.

When Mr Day’s questioning was over, Mr Holgate called Tracey Dow, Assistant Head of Transport at Oxfordshire County Council. After giving her evidence in response to questions from Mr Holgate, she was cross-examined by Mr Lowe.

Key points from Ms Dow’s evidence:

  • £17.23 million is available to build the road, of which £3.1 million could be used for either the Cogges Link Road or the Shores Green alternative.
  • £8.24 million of the money is developer funding, of which only £600,000 came from Sainsburys.
  • £3.5 million is Section 106 money.
  • The population of Witney is currently 28,000 (and planning happens on the assumption that this will increase).
  • Dow’s personal view on Shores Green: “It’s psychologically counterintuitive to use the A40 to access the town centre from the east.”

Mr Lowe questioned Ms Dow on the issue of managing traffic demand, asking what the county was doing to get people out of their cars. When developing its strategy, the county took the view that reducing the numbers of car parking spaces in Witney (while keeping them free of charge) will help to reduce the number of people driving into and around Witney. We learned that Woodford Way car park has planning permission for houses to be built on it.

Asked about the possibility of a Park & Ride at Shores Green, Ms Dow replied that it wouldn’t work without additional infrastructure such as bus priority lanes (which the county is not prepared to build) and additional incentives such as town centre parking charges (which the county is not prepared to introduce). She acknowledged that 50% of people who travel to work in Oxford do so by bus, but said that this was unachievable in Witney because the bus services to and around Witney are not as good.

Your reporter left at about quarter past 5, so missed the rest of that day’s questioning of Ms Dow. The cross-examination resumed the following day, Friday 23rd September.

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